Aspen School Board playing Burlingame numbers game
In the battle over Burlingame Ranch, Aspen’s proposed affordable housing complex, the impact of the development on local schools has been a sticking point.Opponents of the project say the influx of children living at Burlingame will swell class sizes and strain the schools beyond capacity. Proponents call such speculation rubbish.Surprisingly absent in all this vociferation are school district officials, who have thus far remained quiet on the issue – and at a public school board discussion on Burlingame Monday night, they continued to hedge their bets.”We have to be really cautious on this,” superintendent Diana Sirko said in a phone interview yesterday. “We’re waiting for impact studies to come back. We don’t know how many more students will join the district.”Burlingame Ranch, a quarter-mile east of the Pitkin County Airport on Highway 82, proposes 236 units for Pitkin County workers. Many of the units are designed for families. If approved, families could start moving in as early as next year.The development is of concern because the school board set limits on class size last year. Opponents of the project say the influx of new students at Burlingame will make these limits unfeasible.Last night, Michele Bonfils, the city’s project manager for Burlingame, told the school board around 166 students will move to Burlingame. Bonfils said the impact of that number on classrooms is difficult to judge because many of those students probably already attend Aspen schools, including students who live outside of Aspen but are currently enrolled as “out of district” pupils.”It’s almost impossible to know for sure what the actual number of new students will be,” she said. Sirko said before the meeting that the figure to consider is 306 students. That’s how many out-of-district students currently attend Aspen schools. In-district students who live in and around Aspen and Snowmass Village have priority over these students. If the district sees an influx of new students at Burlingame, those new in-district students can take the place of out-of-district pupils, who will be forced out of the district. Such a scenario would preserve class sizes, but probably anger out-of-district parents.”Three hundred is the magic number. If it’s less than 300, it’s not a lot of difference to us because we can always roll back out-of-district enrollment,” Sirko said. “We’re not anxious to do that, of course, because many of those students have been in the system for a long time. But we could if we needed to.”Last night Pitkin County Commissioner and Burlingame proponent Mick Ireland told the board there’s no way the complex will bring in more than 300 new students. In fact, Ireland estimates the number at closer to 60 to 70 new students. Ireland pointed to evidence that in-district enrollment in Aspen has not grown substantially since 1994, despite the construction of approximately 1,000 new affordable housing units since then. “In the past 10 years, only 213 additional in-district students enrolled in Aspen’s schools. Is Burlingame, with 236 units, really expected to have the same impact on the school system as the addition of 1,000 units has had in 10 years?” Ireland asked.While the impact of Burlingame is up for debate, district officials have taken steps recently to prepare for a long-term increase in new students. In December, the district investigated how much money it would take to expand Aspen Middle School. This week, district officials will meet with the Snowmass Village Town Council to discuss how many new students might move to Snowmass after the construction of the new base village.”There seems to be growth in Aspen,” Sirko said. “Burlingame is just one example. Last year was a banner year for real estate. I think down the road that might increase enrollment for us.”Board president Fred Peirce said the board will not take a stance on Burlingame.”All we are concerned about is the impact it will have on our district. It’s not our role [to take a position],” he said.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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